NAPLES, Italy—Chaplain John Keith often led memorial services from the chapel at the Navy base here, reading scripture, offering guidance and comforting family.
Members of this small military community returned the favor Friday, filling pews in the same chapel to remember Keith, who died last weekend in the Naples area following complications from surgery.
They praised the 49-year-old lieutenant commander and deputy base chaplain as a caring leader with a positive outlook and steady moral compass.
“In a world of few good men, John Keith was a truly good man,” Capt. Scott Gray, base commander, told the audience.
Keith, 49, of Irvine, Calif., died early March 22 in an Italian hospital in Castel Volturno. He had been transferred there from the nearby Naval hospital in Gricignano, where he had arrived Friday night complaining of pain, according to several base officials.
Speakers on Friday recalled Keith’s devotion to his congregation, his pride in family and his love of San Francisco 49ers football. They remembered his final sermon, on remaining faithful during difficult times.
Keith’s wife, Regina Keith, said her husband was upbeat in the weeks before his death.
Endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention, Keith came to Naples in August 2012 with roughly nine years of experience as a chaplain, much of it with Marines in Okinawa, according to a biography provided by the base chaplain office. He deployed with a Marine unit to Sri Lanka in 2005 to aid tsunami victims, to Kuwait in 2006 as part of the Iraq war and with a carrier air wing in 2010 as part of the Afghanistan war.
Keith worked as a retail sales manager for 10 years before he was ordained as a minister in California in 1996. He worked as a counselor for abused children and then served as pastor in several churches in the Irvine area.
His wife was with him when he died. An adult son, Jonathan, was in California at the time, while a younger son, Josh, was away traveling with a high school sports team.
Friday, one of Keith’s friends imagined what the chaplain would say if he had led his own memorial.
“I believe that, if he could, he would use this moment as an opportunity to reassure us,” said Tom DiRivera. “He’d say, ‘Don’t be afraid, it’s OK, we’ll see each other again.’”